Summary and Analysis

The title of “Funeral Blues,” by the English poet W. H. Auden (1907-1973), might at first suggest genuine lamentation—the kind of mourning or sorrow often found in popular music associated with African Americans. But the tone of Auden’s poem quickly becomes obviously comic and playful. The references to mourning here are mostly exaggerated, in ways that make them difficult to take seriously. The speaker seems, at least until the third stanza, to be having fun rather than expressing genuine pain. Only in line 12 does it seem possible to take the phrasing completely at face value. Otherwise the poem seems mostly an exercise in wit and cleverness.

The poem opens vigorously, with the strongly accented verb “Stop,” a beginning that simultaneously suggests an ending. Indeed, much of the rest of the poem is also built on heavily emphasized verbs of command. The tone of the work is highly imperative. The speaker issues orders, but the orders he issues suggest that he is not taking either himself or the supposed death too seriously. The poem immediately creates curiosity: who has died? How did he die? Why does his death seem so significant? These questions are never answered, which is part of what makes the poem seem so intriguing and playful.

By opening with the phrase “Stop all the clocks,” the speaker cleverly alludes to the idea that in death, time ceases (at least for the dead person). Part of the paradox of this opening, however, is that the tone and pace of the poem seem so rushed, as if time is running out for the speaker as it has already run out for the corpse. The speaker frequently uses what would be called, according to standard grammar, “comma splices,” as in the very opening line. By creating such “splices,” he gives the poem an effect of breathless hurry, as if many words and ideas must be crammed into a limited amount of time and space. Most of the first stanza, however, deals explicitly not with time...

(The entire section is 766 words.)